Irish Eyes sat down with four potential defensive starters during yesterday's media interviews and found two prevailing themes: the presence of constant competition and a sole focus on the team's September 5 opponent – Nevada.
Nose Tackle Ian Williams
Regarding the young defensive linemen entering the season:
"They all know how to play, but we have to get better every practice and I'm glad to have them with me so that we can play hard and give 100 percent against every team we play."
Regarding my conversation with Coach Hart and the lack of traditional offenses the Irish faced last season:
"That's the fun part (playing running team). (My) freshman year we had Michigan and they ran the traditional offense but (even now) they run the spread and this past year we saw a lot of spread like a lot of teams (around the country). I like the (traditional) run teams as a D-Lineman."
On the short-yardage and goal line defense:
"I don't know who will be there but I think (Brandon) Newman and Hafis (Williams) and maybe even Tyler (Stockton) will be in there to play alongside me."
(Note: I mentioned Ethan Johnson was a given.)
A follow-up question regarding Johnson cross-training at DE and DT ("three-technique"):
"I'm not sure of the rotation because depth charts change in camp but Newman is behind me (at nose tackle); Hafis and Ethan do rotate playing a lot of three (technique)."
Regarding his improvement since the beginning of last season:
"I really wanted to improve my conditioning that was first and foremost. And also become more of a leader because we have so many young guys."
Which opposing offensive lineman is circled on his schedule:
"Nevada…they run that ‘Pistol' (offense). They're a great team, I know they're going to come in here and play their hardest, but we're not going to let them come here and come into our house and beat us…we're going to play our hardest too. "
Strongside Linebacker/Special Teams Ace Scott Smith
On his approach to playing multiple special teams:
"(It's competitive) – I'm not sure where they'll have me yet but I'll be in there and try to do the best I can to make plays."
On his play vs. Michigan State at the goal line last year and playing in that defensive package:
"It's something I enjoy – being down in the trenches and having to battle knowing your backs are up against the wall. That's something (defensive package) I would definitely hope to be on again."
Regarding the adjustment to playing SLB:
"You have to read and react to what you see, and being up on the line you don't have as much of an opportunity to see (plays unfold) as much as those guys who are backed off a little bit. But like any linebacker spot, being able to play with your hands is a big thing. The goal is to meet and defeat blocks whether it be the tight end or the tackle coming around.
"Whatever position you play you still have to meet and defeat, play downhill…it's somewhat of an adjustment switching positions because you have to learn the (nuances) and there are some things you can't look at on film (you have to experience game action). Picking up the little nuances (on the field) helps."
Free Safety Harrison Smith
On the talent in the defensive backfield:
"I just think we have playmakers everywhere – the whole defense has a lot of talent and a lot of experience – that's really the main thing. Just the mindset that we want to be the best we can be. We have the potential to be a very good group."
Regarding his reputation as the most athletic guy on the team:
"I've always considered myself an athlete. But there's a lot of guys with that mindset…guys like Sergio Brown – I‘m sure you hear his name a lot. But yeah, it's a compliment, but athleticism and experience together are the two things that (will) help this defensive backfield."
Answering my question if his biggest adjustment in his return to free safety will be remembering his first step is always "back":
"Yes, that's really what you want to do, especially when you're playing deep middle, because you are (with emphasis) the safetyman. You can't go in there and do something wrong – you have to get the guy down. (David) Bruton did a great job of that last year. I try to watch his film and the angles he took and what he did."
When I mentioned he wouldn't lead the team in sacks again:
"I'm not opposed to it! But some interceptions might (help more)."
When I mentioned he had the longest run from scrimmage on the team last season (a gain of 35 yards on a fake punt vs. Washington) and asked him if he gave the running backs any (grief):
"I think some of the guys were making fun of them because we didn't even realize that until we read it. And it (the run) should have been longer, too, I blew that play and cut the wrong way, I should have run all the way to the end zone."
Strong Safety Kyle McCarthy
On his omission from the pre-season Thorp Award Watch List (for the nation's top defensive back):
"I noticed. But it's not something I sit around and think about. But it's another way to motivate."
I reminded him he can still make the list at mid-season: "Exactly."
On how he'd like to improve from his first action last season to through 2009:
"Make more plays. Last year it was something I thought I didn't do enough of. I think I need to be a playmaker back there. We all do."
I told him the Irish defense doesn't need 110 tackles from him this year. "No, no – five interceptions would be nice."
Regarding the competition among the DBs:
"Man we are all competitive back there. The cornerbacks are so deep and they go at it and me and Harrison and Sergio and Ray (Herring), all the safeties. He's (Sergio) a competitor. (Brown is McCarthy's technical backup at strong safety)."
When I mentioned Nevada was coming to run the football in the opener:
"Oh yeah. They're a good team and they'll run (until you stop them). It's going to be a challenge."